These are wonderful words of comfort from God to His people. This verse is one of those ‘memory verses’ which many Christians learn and remember. And rightly so, because it speaks the deep truth that no matter what struggle, or difficulty, trial or challenge we are facing, God has not abandoned us and has a future and a plan and a blessing in store for us. This one verse has been used to encourage people who are lost, people who have lost everything and people who are losing faith as they negotiate life’s challenges. It has been used to bring hope to people who are starting out on new adventures and to those charting a new course in faithful living. As Paul writes in Timothy, in another wonderful ‘memory verse’:
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’’
2 Timothy 3:16-17
If we take this verse seriously, we will want to immerse ourselves in the Bible, dwell in the richness of the words in every page. Not just read small passages taken out of context of each other, but read the words that God has inspired, literary ‘God breathed’ and take note of what He says. If we do this, we will read whole books of the Bible, get familiar with the whole story of God’s love for us and His plans for us, not only the familiar passages and short readings on Sundays. I was speaking with someone this week from our church who had just finished the book of Revelation. They have been a Christian for many, many years but had never read the whole book before, and they said how this challenged them as they pondered what the vivid images and prophesies meant. The majority of the Bible is prophesy, yet too often they are overlooked, probably because they are challenging to us and not always immediately comforting and soothing – although they are, as they speak of God’s deep love, and great plan for our place with him.
I have spent the past two Sundays reading Jeremiah. I am not finished yet so will be continuing today. Jerimiah’s words spoken out to the Israelite people in the days of King Josiah and Nebuchadnezzar, before and after they were taken captive and overrun by the Babylonians in around 600BC, they are a repeated call to the people to turn back to God.
‘“So you shall say to them, ‘This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth.’ Jeremiah 7:28
Jeremiah is not listened too, the people would rather have soothing words of comfort from false prophets and the religious leaders of their day than listen to Jeremiah, whose message for them was too controversial and would overturn their way of life.
The words we started out with in this thought ‘For I know the plans I have for you…’ were spoken to the Israelites after they had been taken into captivity in Babylon. They were exiles and prisoners, they were destitute and desperate. They had deliberately not listened to Jeremiahs’ repeated calls to repentance while they were still in Jerusalem and the result was their exile from the promised land, yet God was still speaking to them and giving them comfort and hope.
‘’Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”’
God’s desire was that He would bring them back into the land of promise. This would come as the people sought God and prayed, as they gave up their wrongful thinking and turned to God with all their heart. As they did what they could have done before they were dragged off into captivity. As they looked to God for answers and actually listened to Him and His prophet, their lives and their hopes would be restored.
In this time of pandemic, lockdown, and social distancing, when so many things are out of bounds to us, when we been captive in our own homes, we have a unique and wonderful opportunity to seek God in ways we have forgotten. To go deeper with Him and seek His face. When we can no longer go to church and worship as we have been used to in our lives, we can in fact get closer to God. The Israelites in captivity had no temple to go to in Jerusalem, but God said to them, ‘You will seek me and find me…. I will be found by you.’
Jesus had this to say to the religious leaders of his day:
‘Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”’ Matthew 22:34-40
All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, we can not ignore the prophets or the law. And the command ‘to love our neighbour as ourselves’ follows on from, and can only be truly lived out when, ‘we Love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength’. Loving our neighbour is not the goal but the result of our loving God, and of receiving His love for ourselves.
God loved the people in Jeremiah’s day, but they failed to listen to Him. Yet as calamity fell upon them, God did not abandon them. He gave them the promise that His plans for them would bring Hope and a future.
God loves His people in the world right now, but in so many ways we do not listen to God. The world runs after money, and power and greed, it puts the lives of the rich above the lives of the poor, we idolise the corrupt. The church has carried on doing the same old things and getting less relevant to those around it. It is interesting that only 24% of the UK population have engaged with some sort of online service, according to the polls. Our challenge, as we gradually move to the reopening of society, is are we going to keep doing what we did before or are we going to refocus our lives on God, praying, listening to Jesus, declaring His love as our priority above the busyness of our normal everyday life?
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the Lord.’ Jeremiah 9:23-24
We are not abandoned, but loved by God. The world is not lost, but ready to find Jesus. We might need to socially distance, but God draws close to us. Jesus’ loving kindness is available for us forever, and in Him, and only in Him we have Hope and our Future.
Revd Stuart Huntley